You can make it in Massachusetts.
At least that's what an '80s-era state slogan assured. But as a Democrat, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can't make it here you can't make it anywhere. That's the problem facing a political neophyte whose big political dreams extend beyond the tiny northeast state.
Elizabeth Warren's boosters angrily demanded that the United States Senate confirm her to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) before Barack Obama had even nominated anyone for the post. The president's appointment of former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray should have been a lesson to Warren's fan club not to allow their wishes to outpace reality.
The Harvard Law School professor never made it to a Senate confirmation. Now her online admirers want her in the Senate. They await Warren's announcement whether she will challenge freshman Scott Brown. But that hasn't stopped her supporters from envisioning the Massachusetts gig as a stepping stone to the presidency.
"Four years in the Senate could well make Elizabeth Warren a serious contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination," the Nation's John Nichols writes, holding that "even if Warren never goes presidential" her mere presence in the august body would be a boon for America. A quick online search reveals numerous "Warren for President" sites. Some envision the Wall Street scourge's White House-run coming before 2016.
Most enthusiasts foresee a post-Obama presidential run, with a perfunctory election to the U.S. Senate serving as the staging ground for the grander ambition. But defeating the most popular politician in the Bay State will be no easy task. A Public Opinion Strategies poll released last week showed Scott Brown's favorability rating at 62 percent. Massachusetts voters describe the Republican senator as "an independent vote" by a 2-1 margin. The poll, commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, shows Brown leading Elizabeth Warren 53-28 percent.
Warren's numbers versus Brown aren't in themselves damning. An interested party commissioned the survey. The president will likely have coattails in New England. And the vote is fifteen months away. Who gave Brown a shot at winning one month before his election?
But Warren's numbers vis-à-vis her competitors for the Democratic nomination should concern her. Though she performs slightly better than Newton Mayor Setti Warren and City Year founder Alan Khazei, the three Democrats are all mired in the twenties while the incumbent's take of the vote exceeds 50 percent no matter the hypothetical opponent.
Losing a Democratic primary in Massachusetts is no way to launch a presidential run.
Candidates certainly can grow on electorates during campaigns. But can a campaign grow on a candidate? The inquiries and indignities of a run for office don't seem to suit Warren.
After just an hour of questions on Capitol Hill in May, the Treasury advisor tried to abscond. "Congressman, you are causing problems," a departing Warren angrily told Congressman Patrick McHenry. "We had an agreement for a later hearing." The North Carolina congressman responded, "You are making this up, Miss Warren." Warren insisted she had appointments more pressing than the one with Congress.
When one of those appointments turned out to be with Vanity Fair's Suzanna Andrews, it surprised nobody. Elizabeth Warren wowed The Daily Show audience. Michael Moore tapped her as a talking head for Capitalism: A Love Story. The Boston Globe even named her "Bostonian of the Year" in 2009.
She loves good press. She hates anyone questioning her authority, even when she doesn't have any. Though never nominated, let alone appointed, to lead the CFPB, Warren tried to establish new federal mortgage rules. The power play violated the legislation establishing the bureau. Czars tend to have that effect on democracy.
Warren thankfully doesn't seem interested in appointing herself Senator as she had appointed herself CFPB head. The unelected legislator is thinking about going legit by becoming an elected legislator. But election requires shaking dirty hands in Somerville and Billerica and answering the inane questions of twentysomething local TV reporters. Do they know that her face once graced the cover of Time?
Warren is a star among MSNBC viewers and readers of the Daily Kos. Her anemic numbers in Massachusetts show that she isn't playing in Pelham, Peabody, or Pembroke. Elizabeth Warren is the most famous woman that nobody has heard of.
Before Elizabeth Warren can lead the free world, she will have to lead Scott Brown in a poll taken beyond Harvard Yard. That will involve pesky questions and interacting with her lessers. Does the woman Robert Kuttner calls a "progressive super-hero" really want to lower herself by becoming a mere U.S. Senator?